Skip to main content

Review of The Beauty Queen Of Leenane at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

While Martin McDonagh is now making quite a name for himself as a screenwriter, director and producer of hit films like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, he started off a writer for the stage, like this play The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the first of a trilogy set in County Galway. And while McDonagh himself has said he has "respect for the whole history of films and a slight disrespect for theatre", it doesn't stop him writing pretty impressive plays like this one.

Having previously seen McDonagh's The Pillowman at The Playhouse, and an excellent version of Hangmen via NT Live, I was well aware of McDonagh's dark humour. Beauty Queen maintains that edge, with its tale of spinster Maureen, and her relationship with her oppressive and demanding mother Mag, ill, but still outwardly manipulative of events. It's dark, not quite as dark as The Pillowman perhaps, but like that play, features one truly disturbing torture scene, so, it's not for the faint-hearted. That's not to say it isn't funny, that is McDonagh's trademark, making you laugh while being pretty sure deep down you probably shouldn't be.

While there are also two male characters in this play, and they do drive events from afar, this is primarily about the two women of the piece, especially at first Mag. She is played incredibly well, by an unrecognisable Kimberly Vaughen, looking and embodying the frail creature Mag has become. Stooped, staggering, but with enough energy and glint of the eye, to still get about controlling, and trying to stop the relationships that her daughter attempts to have. It's an incredible performance, one of the best upon the Playhouse stage in recent times.

Her daughter Maureen performed by Kate Billingham wields just the right amount of desperation in the role, allowing the character enough room to develop into what she becomes as the story unfolds. It's a rightfully scary performance at times, but at its core, desperately sad.

The male characters, for the most part, offer the comic relief, and the larger than life characters. Richard Jordan as Pato Dooley is a likeable chap, and his offstage emotional reading of his letter is a particular highlight. Finally, Jof Davies' Ray Dooley is something else altogether, a livewire of a character, animated, fast-talking, willing to help, but no further than he can stand. It completes a quartet of brilliant performances, all brimming with strong and mostly maintained, Irish accents.

Liz Clark directs well, despite never being crowded of people, and it looks an absolute delight on Rod Arkle brilliant set, complete with appliances and even the very real, kitchen sink.

In fact, the whole thing combines into a great piece of theatre, which, yes, you can laugh at, despite often feeling you shouldn't be. It's challenging at times, and some of the themes will unquestionably touch a few nerves of some people watching. However, while one scene, can be truly uncomfortable, and the story doesn't end well, you can't help but admire the whole play and production as you leave, challenged and thinking, the theatre.

Performance reviewed: Saturday 16th March 2019 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

The Beauty Queen Of Leenane ran until Saturday 16th March 2019 at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton but have further dates on its tour. For details visit: whitecobraproductions.co.uk

For full details about the Playhouse Theatre visit their website at playhousenorthampton.com

Photos: Tom Jordan

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c

Review of Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The National Theatres Connections series of plays had been one of my highlights of my trips to R&D during 2014. Their short and snappy single act style kept them all interesting and never overstaying their welcome. So I was more than ready for my first encounter with one of this years Connections plays ahead of the main week of performances at R&D later in the year. Hacktivists is written by Ben Ockrent, whose slightly wacky but socially relevant play Breeders I had seen at St James Theatre last year. Hacktivists is less surreal, but does have a fair selection of what some people would call odd. Myself of the other hand would very much be home with them. So we are presented with thirteen nerdy "friends" who meet to hack, very much in what is termed the white hat variety. This being for good, as we join them they appear to have done very little more than hacked and created some LED light device. Crashing in to spoil the party however comes Beth (Emma-Ann Cranston)